Support our mission
U.S. Forces Japan and 5th Air Force commander Lt. Gen. Bruce Wright.

U.S. Forces Japan and 5th Air Force commander Lt. Gen. Bruce Wright. (U.S. Air Force)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Announced target dates for the U.S. military’s transformation in Japan are within reach, the U.S. Forces Japan and 5th Air Force commander, Lt. Gen. Bruce Wright said Monday.

Wright also discussed the changing political landscape in the United States and Japan during a luncheon with media members, saying it won’t have any effect on the security pact shared by the two countries.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld stepped down last week shortly after Democrats won majorities in the House of Representatives and Senate in U.S. midterm elections. In September, Shinzo Abe replaced Junichiro Koizumi as Japan’s new prime minister.

“I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen such changes all at once,” Wright said. “At the same time, I’ve never seen such progress in the alliance.

“This alliance is founded on common strategic objectives. The political changes, while interesting, I don’t see them as a challenge. … We’ve laid a good foundation.”

The U.S.-Japan military realignment report released in May contains several lofty goals: Marine Corps Air Station Futenma’s move to Camp Schwab by 2014; transfer of the Navy’s Carrier Air Wing 5 from Naval Air Facility Atsugi to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni by 2014; shift of the Japan Air Self-Defense Command to Yokota in 2010; and overhaul of the Army’s command structure at Camp Zama — to include bringing I Corps in from Fort Lewis, Wash. — by 2008 and moving the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force’s Central Readiness Force headquarters there by 2012.

Japan also is contributing $20 billion for the relocation of 8,000 Marines and their dependents from Okinawa to Guam by 2014.

Wright said he believes each measure can be accomplished on schedule.

“I’m very confident we can stay on track …,” he said. “The effort seems slow sometimes by American standards. But when we get there, we get it right. ”

Strong Japanese public opinion toward America and the U.S. military presence here should aid the process, he said.

A U.S. Embassy poll taken in May and June showed 80 percent of the 1,012 adults surveyed across Japan favor the U.S. alliance — the fourth consecutive year that opinion increased. Seventy-three percent also believe the U.S. military presence in East Asia is important while 67 percent believe U.S. bases in Japan are important.

Wright also addressed the hurdles U.S. forces continually face under Defense Department budget tightening.

“It’s always a challenge … to relook at the requirement for capabilities we have,” he said. “We have about 50,000 (troops) in Japan, and it’s become more clear how important this force is. … It’s been a busy year for resource support, but it’s been a productive year for U.S. Forces Japan.

“We’ve been able to find a different way to do business and we’ve found over the years that we can do more with less.”

Without revealing specifics, he said there was substantial “fallout money” in this fiscal year’s budget for quality-of-life enhancements. He also praised the Japanese government for sharing the costs of maintaining American troops and bases here.

In 2004, Japan paid $4.4 billion in host-nation support and it renewed a pledge last January to provide $1.2 billion in direct funding for each of the next two years.

“We are a nation at war. To have an ally contribute $4.4 billion, it’s a big deal,” he said.

With the holidays approaching, Wright also offered gratitude to servicemembers in Japan and Okinawa for their support and dedication to the mission in 2006.

“I’m thankful for the honor to serve … with the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines and their families overseas,” he said. “While defending the U.S.-Japan alliance, they’re also supporting the global war on terror and constantly rotating to the other side of the world. My thanks goes out to all of them for their performance and hard work.”

Stripes in 7

around the web

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up